Writing Communities: Be Choosy

Creepy Skeleton FishThe explosion of social media has provided writers (usually massive introverts) with unlimited opportunities to network like never before. Relax, this isn’t going to be another “how to use social media to exploit your brand” article. First, it’s been covered better elsewhere, by people far more knowledgeable than I, and second, I have found a lot (not all mind you, but a lot) of the information they provide is pretty generic.

For a writing community to be effective for me, it not only needs to provide the opportunity to technically hone my trade craft, but also feed my creative side. I thought about providing a list of communities that I find helpful, but those same communities might not be helpful to you, and I found that I could only come up with three anyway. I don’t know about you, but I had been a member of way more than three communities. Why (and how) did I pare it down to three?

The Candy Store

I was a member of between twenty and thirty virtual writing communities. I signed up for those so fast my fingers just about flew off. They all looked so cool and great, and I could network with ‘real’ writers, only to find out these groups were full of people like me, all of us looking for those ‘real’ writers. I was suffering from a severe case of Candy Store Syndrome.

Instead of taking the time to visit and hang out, making sure the experience would meet the expectations, I just dove in all willy-nilly. I had become enamored with the packaging, not knowing if I was going to get a toffee, or an orange cream. What I wound up with was a stomach ache. I may have been listed as a member of all those groups, but I hadn’t been active in most of them for a long time.

Fitting In

I needed to be more discerning. What did I want to get out of a group? Advice? Technical Voodoo? The alchemy to an instant bestseller? The primary criteria: I needed to fit in.

Yeah, I’ll admit, that’s an ambiguous state. How do I fit in? What do I need? What can I offer? Well, I can’t tell you what ‘fitting in’ looks like, I just know it when I see it. And that’s the key: that ‘knowing’ the community is right for you. It only happens over time, and is proportional to your involvement.

In my case, I stayed involved in the communities where I have the most fun. There is an atmosphere of absurdity and silliness (see the picture above), coupled with a sincere desire to help each other succeed. We take others’ work with a good-natured seriousness that eschews pretension. The mix of hilarity and focus appeals to me.

Time

Thirty writing groups? Really? Like I have time for that! An unfortunate side effect of that realization is a knee jerk reaction to remove myself from all of them. The real answer for me was found in ‘The Candy Store’ solution: moderation.

It was overwhelming when I realized the commitments I had made. I had to swallow some crow, apologize, and back out of most of the groups. There just wasn’t enough time in the day. The lesson I learned was circumspection. When I evaluate a new community, I consider what I can give back, and how much of my time will it take. If I can’t free that time, then I don’t join.

My experience is richer now. I focus my time and energy on the communities I enjoy the most: the ones that help me grow as a writer while also making me feel that I add value to the discussions in return.


DirtyMagick-LA_BookCover_we-196x300 Paul’s first published short story, “The Winds,” is part of “Dirty Magick: Los Angeles” – an anthology exploring the crossroads between urban fantasy and noir; mean streets, dirty magic! Available for Kindle and Nook.

2 comments for “Writing Communities: Be Choosy

  1. August 6, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    So, WSS fosters “an atmosphere of absurdity and silliness?” What a compliment!! Great post, Paul.

  2. August 9, 2014 at 1:49 am

    I can’t disagree… Fitting in, however hard to define, is the thing. Sincerity of the community will attract me and keep me there. How do we find the balance between experience and innocence, though? I mean, once somebody becomes a published author, they get busier, slightly more important (not only in their own eyes) and sincerity is easily lost.

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